Landmark scientific report warns UK faces inevitable increases in heat waves, droughts, flood risks and extreme weather.
UK firms are being urged to act now to avoid the worst effects of climate change, following the release of an official report presenting the bleakest assessment yet of the likely impact of global warming.
The report, from the government-backed UK Climate Impact Programme, warns that average temperatures are likely to rise two degrees by mid-century, resulting in drier, warmer summers, wetter winters, and increased incidences of flooding, droughts and dangerous heat waves.
The report, which is based on about 400 separate climate models, also includes detailed maps showing the probability of future changes in climate and sea levels within 25 square kilometre grid squares.
Based on low, medium and high-level emissions projections, the maps show that regardless of current efforts to curb carbon emissions, the UK is already locked into 20 to 30 years of warming, which will result in more floods, heat waves and droughts.
They also paint an even more daunting picture for the second half of the century, warning that without drastic cuts in global carbon emissions, average temperatures in the South East will rise by between three and five degrees by the 2080s, and could rise by up to eight degrees by 2100 - with potentially catastrophic consequences for UK food production, economic activity and human health.
Urging businesses and households to step up efforts to cut carbon emissions, environment secretary Hilary Benn said the report provided further evidence that we risk handing a climate that is "out of control" to the next generation.
However, he also warned that urgent action is required to ensure businesses and key infrastructure are more resilient to the inevitable climatic changes that are expected over the coming decades.
He said the report would help the government draw up new climate change adaptation plans, adding that about 100 public sector bodies had been tasked with delivering comprehensive climate adaptation strategies by next year.
"The projections will allow us to make sure we have a resilient infrastructure to cope - whether it's the design of school buildings or protection of new power plants, maintaining the supply of drinking water, adjusting ways of farming for drier summers or understanding how our homes and businesses will have to adapt," he said.
Speaking to BusinessGreen.com, Craig Bennett, director of the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change, said many businesses specialising in infrastructure services, such as energy, water and telco firms, were already factoring climate change into their investment decisions.
But he also warned that many firms were still guilty of ignoring climate change threats and needed to act to bolster their resilience to global warming and mitigate against inevitable increases in insurance premiums.
"The severe weather events we have seen in recent years will become more frequent and that has huge implications for businesses," he said. "We now have a detailed analysis of the likely effects, but the next step is to translate that into policy action at both a political and a business level. Continuing to respond to weather events after they have happened is just not going to work."
His comments were echoed by Dr Neil Bentley, director of business environment at employers' group the CBI, who urged businesses to analyse the new report and begin to take steps to minimise the risks to their operations, buildings and stock from potential weather-related damage.
The government has previously advised businesses and households to draw up flood plans, develop business continuity policies for extreme weather events and invest in water conservation measures. Meanwhile, a number of public sector strategies are already in place to adapt to climate change, such as London's proposals to expand park areas and develop green roofs in an attempt to cool urban spaces.
But Bennett said more drastic measures will be required in the long term, warning that businesses and public sector bodies will have to adjust investment decisions to account for rising temperatures and increased flood risks. "There are parts of the country where we will have to realise that certain activities and industries, particularly in terms of agriculture and building on flood plains, will not be able to continue," he said.
Lord Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, which has a key role in managing flood risks, water resources and carbon emissions, said that as well as highlighting the need for adaptation measures, the report should also underline the urgent requirement for deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
"A failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions will lead to a battle for survival for mankind and many other species across the globe by the end of this century, and we will feel the effects here in the UK too," he said. "We will be working hard to help people cope with the consequences of climate change and to do everything we can to stop it happening in the first place. But it needs urgent action from government, the public sector and business to make it easy for people to do the right thing and to transform the way we use energy and resources."
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